Thursday, August 19, 2010

Truth Is Truth

Father Mark was scolded by a parishioner for quoting in his homily the observation of a wise and holy Buddhist. "Why, Father, would you quote at Mass somebody who's not even Christian?"

Himself a wise and holy man, Father Mark said, "Why not? Do we have a monopoly on wisdom? Don't you think truth is truth even if it is spoken by people of other religions?"

His complainer was not deterred. "But, Father, they're not Christian!"

"True," he replied, "most Buddhists are not Christians, but neither are they throwaways. God is with them, and Jesus loves them too. Christians don't have a monopoly on Christ."

During the course of its history the Church has often had to make course corrections about this matter.

For centuries the Church's attitude toward other religions came across as negative. In 1858 Pope Pius IX took a young Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, away from his parents and raised him in the Vatican because the boy had been secretly baptized a Christian. The pope thought it improper for a Christian to be raised in a Jewish home.

As late as 1958 Catholic liturgy described the Jews as "perfidious."

Prior to the mid 1960s Roman Catholics were not permitted to attend services in Protestant churches. For a time there were some Catholics who believed that only Catholics could go to heaven --a conviction which obviously excluded members of non-Christian religions.

Down through the centuries, however, the Church did affirm that Jews must not be forced to become Christian --see canon 8 of the Second Council of Nicea, 787 AD. Or Pope Gregory VII's acknowledgement in 1076 that Moslems and Christians worship the same God. Or Pope Pius XII's statement in 1951 that "there is truth and goodness outside the Christian religion."

At the Second Vatican Council the bishops corroborated these course corrections: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions" (Hinduism and Buddhism), and further stated, "The Church also has a high regard for the Muslims" (Nostra aetate, 2, 3).

Gaudium et spes (#22) went further, insisting that the Holy Spirit works not only in Christians but also in the hearts of all men of good will, for Christ has died for all! "We must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery."

Some critics of this Catholic position fear that a sense of indifferentism will take hold and people will conclude one religion is as good as another. Christians in general, Catholics in particular, maintain that all salvation comes through Jesus Christ. We are not saying one is as good as another, but it is the conviction that all salvation comes through Christ which allows us to see Christ and the Holy Spirit operative in the lives of people of other religions.

Long before the Incarnation God loved and saved people. Those who came before the Christian era were not throwaways, nor are the millions of souls today who do not know Christ to be written off. God is busy in many places in many ways.

One of the basic directives of the Christian faith is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12). This so-called Golden Rule was found in the teaching of the ancient Greek philosopher Pittacus who died some 500 years before Jesus. A form of this rule is found also in Confucianism, in Hinduism, and in Buddhism.

I do not propose that Jesus took the Golden Rule from ancient Greeks or Buddhists, but I do propose that the Holy Spirit of God was at work in the world before the Christian era began. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, but God's love for and involvement in the world did not begin with the coming of Christ.

Father Mark found truth in the Dhammapada of Buddhism. Tomorrow he may find it in the Rig Veda of the Hindus or in the Qu'ran of Islam. He has found it all his life in the Bible. Truth is truth no matter where he finds it.

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